Beat the Drums Slowly

Written by Adrian Goldsworthy
Review by Jane Hill

Set in Spain during the Peninsular War, the story follows the 106th regiment, led by Sir John Moore, as the regiment takes part in the Corunna campaign. Adrian Goldsworthy’s research sets the scene of the life of the officers, men and the camp followers in the rugged, winter countryside of northern Spain. Soldiers’ wives were a tough breed. They helped to look after their own men and were paid to clean the regimental clothing. Many were prone to drunkenness as were their menfolk. No time was allowed, nor was consideration given, to the many young women who were often giving birth in the open air without medical assistance.

The Corunna campaign was a grim business, and although the Hussar regiments performed well, their horses were woefully unsatisfactory and there was a serious lack of horseshoes and the nails required to fit them.

Although the details of regimental life are accurate and the speech and behaviour of the characters reflect the reality of the period, I felt that more facts were needed about the historical background. I was also disappointed that the death of Sir John Moore was described in such a brief manner. It would have been accorded greater importance by his soldiers. He is still venerated by the British Army.